The playful breeze brought her out of her center, not because it was a distraction. Living with her three roommates/BFF meant she was used to meditating in the midst of chaos. Once she had even found her center whilst there was a class three hurricane blowing. It was a number of subliminal messages that penetrated her subconscious and forced her conscious mind to take note.
The flow of air was uninterrupted where it should come up against the tree trunks, there were no leaves rustling against the touch of the wind. The earthy scent of mulch was replaced with that of clean fresh mountain air. The scent of wildflowers though was still there.
Calm, centered Ana opened her eyes to confirm what her senses had already told her. She was no longer sitting upon her favorite stone in the center of her clearing surrounded by evergreens. She sat upon another rock which was surrounded by small purple wildflowers she had never seen before though their scent seemed familiar enough.
The piece of land was roughly twenty paces wide and just as long, beyond that were deep canyons she could not see the bottom of from where she sat. As far as her eye could see were other buttes and mesas giving the land the appearance of a long dry streambed, only the land was alive with wildflowers and the occasional tree coppices.
Her little island in the air had a single tree that seemed to have roots clinging against the cliff edge. The space between it and the next butte had a bridge spanning it, an arcing confection that looked too fragile to be of any use. Made of some translucent grey metal, it was a thing of fairy-tale beauty.
Gossamer threads she could only discern because of their metallic sheen held the walkway to the stylized seven foot high arcs. The space it spanned looked to be at least thirty feet wide and as deep at the canyon looked she could not trust the fluffy looking bridge as a means off the butte. Looking behind her she saw another airy bridge only this one reflected a golden color.
Ana had always trusted her surrounding, a naïve trust she knew as the world could turn ugly faster than most people could imagine, but still she was comfortable within any and most situations. She trusted that with patience a way out of even the direst situations would present itself.
Maybe it was her belief that had always brought her through even at her worst times; all the same in her struggles she had found it to be true. Answers as to how she had come to be here and where here was would be given in their own time; she saw no reason to worry about it as yet. She was in no immediate danger.
“What do you think Padraig,” she addressed the golden retriever lying beside her rock to her right. “Should we be worried?” Paddy lifted his head at the sound of his name, held her eyes for a moment then gave her an enthusiastic woof. “That’s what I thought.” she agreed. Turning to her left where another golden retriever lay she met the limpid brown eyes with her own questioning ones. “And you Elydd, what do you think?” lowering her head to her front paws she closed her eyes as if there was nothing to bother about. “My thoughts exactly.”
Closing her eyes and holding her hands in the hjana mudra position, her thumb and forefinger touching with her palms facing up, she took a steadying breath which she released with an ohm sound. Allowing her consciousness to rest at her center she focused on her heart instead of the deep mind analysis that she had been doing before. Knowing who she was didn’t seem as important as cleansing herself of all negative energy had suddenly become. Stretching her back, relaxing shoulders and lowering her head a bit she relaxed into the soothing sounds she was making.
Fear floated through her awareness, she accepted it, rode its flow even as she kept the core of her center still and peaceful. With that acceptance came understanding and the ability to let it go. It had its place in a healthy heart but it was never wise to hold on to it or let it rule so she let it go. Apprehension took its place but unlike fear she acknowledged it as it faded at the edge of her awareness.
With each breath she took in, her peace asserted itself, flowing through her windpipe to settle at her core before rushing through the rest of her. She breathed out all the negativity and uncertainties until she reached her serenity.
She was a capable woman; God had never and would never bring her into a situation she could not overcome. All situations strived to make her stronger and she would be so.
Acknowledging her strength, embracing all she was she breathed in the sweet pure air, purer than any she had ever breathed and rested in the knowledge of her self-awareness. She enjoyed the tranquil ambience around her, marveling that such a place as this existed. She had never heard of such a place, perhaps it was the higher plane others spoke of. Whatever it was Ana intended to soak in the quietude about her.
Time was a monochrome, unacknowledged and irrelevant, only this moment, place and her awareness mattered. Something in her had changed; her perception of her emotions was sharper, more detailed as if her aura was more perceivable. Lowering her awareness from her center to her core she noted her prana or chi had changed.
It had always been golden yellow, a testament to her connection with the air element, now it was brighter, steadier, a mass of raw energy flowing about her core with threads veining to the rest of her body. She had known that a person’s prana did not just dwell in their core but flowed through them and even out and into them from the world around them. Before today she had never seen it for herself. It was like how her friend Kim had described as the collateral meridians and their arterioles.
Pure life energy running through the body to give and maintain life. It was beautiful, surreal, and unbelievable that it was a part of her. Embracing it she lost herself in the feeling of well-being, of balance. She was one with her surroundings in a way she had never been before, transcending limitation she had not known she had.
A shadow fell over her, as if the sun had just been covered by a cloud though it didn’t feel like a cloud. The shadow was a heavier than it would be were it just a cloud so she opened her eyes and looked up. Awed she stared at the sight before her.
With a wingspan of about twenty-five feet the falcon before her was magnificent. A brilliant dark blue across the top of its head it had a startlingly white hooked beak that attested to its being a bird of prey. Glorious tan feathers edged in the dark blue covered its underbelly forming an intricate pattern she guessed would be individual.
Its midnight piercing black eyes were surrounded by a circular patch of white feathers. It was beautiful, more so given its exceptional size. Upon its back sat a tall, muscular man haloed by the sun so that she couldn’t see anything beyond his size. She watched as he dismounted a confident being with all the time in the world. There was magnetism in his movements, the assurance of a man who knew his place in life and had nothing to fear.
“My lady,” the man bowed before her offering his hand to her. Dazed Ana took the offered hand allowing him to help her off the stone. There was an enchanting old world charm to his manner, something she had never experienced and found quite attractive. “Lord Arrapha at your service. How may I assist you?”
She blushed, feeling like a lady more than she had ever. “Could you tell me where I am?”
“These are the Mkedem plains.” He replied gesturing with his other hand to the surrounding buttes and their bridges. He must have seen the confusion on her face as he explained further. “They are the easternmost part of the kingdom of Erynth.”
“Right,” she muttered her tone expressing her incomprehension. “Where on Earth is that?”
“Erynth is the eastern kingdom on the continent, the air territory.” She could hear the frown in his voice.
“Oh I get it, role playing games.” She sighed in relief and a touch of disappointment. He was a gamer, one of the types she should not go for but she was attracted to him. She had the worst taste in men. Maybe she could make an exception for him; from the little she could make of his shadowed features he was a catch.
A piercing screech cut across the air and she looked up to see two other falcon hovering above them. They couldn’t land as the butte was too small to accommodate them. Seeing them though gave her pause; as far as she knew there were no falcons of that size in the world. The one before her looked too lifelike to be an automaton, even though the robotics world had progressed a great deal in the last century. There was something too natural about the minute movements the bird was making for it to be a robot.
As if at some signal the two falcon riders both swung their legs over and slid off the neck of their birds both of which then flew off. There was no mistaking the militant readiness of them as they walked towards the man she was talking to, lord Arrapha.
Ana was not one to be easily intimidated so she didn’t react even though their hands were on their swords. Swords for crying out loud, they were too out-dated to be much of a threat. Her bracelet had the ability to transubstantiate a myriad of weapons including swords; if they attacked her she was ready for them.
Lord Arrapha held his hand out to them, a universal sign for them to stop. He didn’t turn to see if they heeded him, a sure sign he was used to being obeyed. They had the look of guards to them, the no nonsense humorless kind that would have no compunction to slicing her in half.
Anathaya could feel the peace she had just achieved leaching out of her. Tension settled in her shoulders, her back straightened that much more and she widened her stance in an obvious preparation to engage. She could take the three of them easily though she would rather not, a skilled fighter she didn’t relish fighting as much as her friends did.
“There is no need to be defensive, my guards will not harm you.” The lord said in a soothing voice meant to reassure her.
“That’s not the vibe they are generating.”
“Vibe?” he questioned.
“Yeah, the whole, ‘we will cut you up if you so much as breathe wrong on us’ attitude they are radiating.”
“It is their job to protect me and they take it seriously, as they should.”
“Do I look that threatening?” with her bouncy fly away curls and serene face she didn’t look it.
He smiled at her. “You are unlike anyone we have ever seen and are dressed unlike any. In these times anything and anyone strange means danger.”
Ana had a nagging feeling that would not leave her be as much as she wanted it to. Something about this situation was off. Much as she wanted to dismiss it as gamer role playing the super big birds disputed that. What times was he talking about?
“And yet you stopped your guards.” She raised an eyebrow at him.
“You intrigue me.”
“Intrigue much like curiosity killed the cat.” She quoted her friend Jaiya’s version of the old saying.
He tilted his head much like the bird had earlier, only this human gesture was one of subtle inquiry. “What does that mean?”
“It’s a very common saying, a warning against the dangers of needless analysis and or experimentation. It tells people not to be too curious about others in case they die because of it.”
“Are you now saying you are a danger to me?” there was no mistaking the amusement in his voice.
“If you give me reasons to be.”
“Is that a fact?” he gave her a stunning smile evidently not believing her. “My guards are the best at combat and magical fighting and as women do not train as fighters I doubt you can stand against them.”
As if understanding what was being said Elydd growled low in her throat, a warning that she would be attacking soon. Ana stroked her head to calm her then walked to the right of the man keeping a safe distance between them, Paddy and Elydd moved with her. From her new position she could see his features clearly. He was stunning, in an aristocratic kind of way. His features symmetrical, fine in a way that should have been effeminate but somehow they were masculine, reverting in the strength they portrayed.
Ice blue eyes contrasting with the warmth their depths radiated. The steady gaze held open admiration as he took her in; he was enjoying their strange encounter. Long golden hair flowed down his back and though she had never liked long hair on men she found it somehow suited him, enhancing his good looks.
Swallowing her attraction she cocked her head at an angle she knew would portray arrogance. “I can take the three of you easily, provided you can fight that is. I hate thrashing people who cannot defend themselves.”
“Oh I can fight. But I do not believe in striking women.”
“Ah, you leave that to your guards.”
He shrugged. “They have never found it necessary to hit the few women who were threats.”
“Why?” she challenged then answered her own question with rhetoric. “Because women are delicate little flowers that are incapable of fighting?”
“That and they should always be protected, even against themselves.”
She should be bristling; insulted at a brand of male chauvinism she particularly found irritating yet all she felt was amusement. Excitement at their banter though she could tell he was serious. “Shall I show you how delicate and in need of protection I am?”
Padraig growled and was joined by Elydd, they mistook the tension in the air and she knew that if she didn’t stop them they would. Reaching for both their collars she held them back as their grows turned to snarls, their teeth exposed in a threatening manner.
In response the humongous bird of prey bristled opening its wings and lowering its head a precursor to its own attack. Ana did not want to take chances with her beloved dogs. The thing was too big for them to fight without serious risk to themselves but seeing her in more danger the two became more aggressive and she found it hard to hold them back.
“Can you control your oversized bird?” she shouted to the lord over the animal sounds. The bird was shrieking well enough to endanger her hearing.
“Taneus stop.” The man commanded and the bird seized. At that Paddy and Elydd sat back down besides her but their faces showed they were alert for anything. “What are those things?” he demanded.
Ana stiffened, no one called her precious companions things. They were cherished members of her family and no one was allowed to disrespect them. “Padraig and Elydd are family.” She gritted at him.
“Forgive me for any disrespect,” the apology was sincere enough though the tone indicated he couldn’t understand the sentiment and thought her crazy for it. “But it does not answer my question.”
“They’re dogs.” Incredulity laced her voice. “Man’s best friend? How could anyone not know about dogs?”
“They are the first I have ever seen and no one that I know of has ever heard of them. Are they creatures from the Athesian continent? I have heard they have creatures there we do not have.”
Ana took a step back. There were five continents and none of them was named Athesia. “You mean Asian continent?” Please let that be what you mean, coz the alternative was mind numbing. It would make sense, her brain had been screaming at her even as she had been flirting with the guy but she hadn’t wanted to hear. The alien landscape, the fragile looking bridges, men who rode on giant falcons!
“No there is no Asian continent unless that is what Athesians call themselves that. I have not read such though. Are you from that far off continent? It would explain your strange dressing.” He mused.
Strange? What was so strange about designer chinos shorts coming to mid-thigh with a lot of pockets, a simple white shirt and half boots? There was no logical explanation to all this except that she was in another world, on another planet. But there was no way that was possible. No way other habitable worlds existed, no way she could be on earth one moment and then on another planet the next. It took months of travel to get to another planet and it had been no way near that. But she had shifted location and if magic was as real as he had intimated, it might as well have been across the cosmos.
Closing her eyes she took a deep breath, a breath that was supposed to calm her quivering insides but didn’t help. She knew there was desperation in her eyes when she opened them and met his. “Where am I?”
Confused by the question he took a step closer to her. When he answered his voice was gentle, the kind one would use when trying to calm a frisky animal. “As I said before...”
“No,” her voice cracked on the word. ’Where am I? I have never heard of the Mkedem planes, Erynth, Athesia or oversized birds and I know pretty much every place on earth. So the only explanation I can think of is that I am no longer on earth which is impossible because there are no other habitable places around, astronauts have looked for centuries. Right?”
“What are astronauts?”
Her heart fell. “Oh God!” she would have fallen had he not caught her. “Where am I?” she asked again.
“You are on the world of Seleucia.”